A Standard Raised

Timothy Tow

Text: Isaiah 59:1–21

During the early days of the Pacific War, when Japan was advancing on Southeast Asia, I was working for the British Information Department as a monitor of enemy broadcasts. With the enemy rolling down on little or no opposition, and city after city falling into Japanese hands, you can imagine how dampened the spirits of our people were. In the gloom before the fall of Singapore, however, there came a light from a distant voice across the seas. It was VOA, the Voice of America broadcasting. It stirred my innermost being with a deep yearning. It sparked a hope within me for liberation and freedom. Heard from the distant voice, coming over so solemn and majestic at the conclusion, were the strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

So “The Star-Spangled Banner” that had rallied this great nation in the Second World War had also inspired subjugated people with a deep yearning and a bright hope; also, I’m sure, all freedom-loving people.

But do you know by whom this anthem was written, and the circumstances under which it came to be written? “The Star-Spangled Banner” was composed by an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key. The circumstances under which it came to be written were as follows: In 1814, during the British naval attack on Fort McHenry, one of the forts defending Baltimore, Francis Scott Key was negotiating with the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay for the release of a friend who had been captured. During the night, when the British stepped up their bombardment of the fortress, Key’s anxiety was correspondingly heightened. But when morning came and Francis Scott Key saw the American standard still flying over the fortress, he gave vent to his pent-up feelings. Thus “The Star-Spangled Banner” was born. It has since become the national anthem of the United States of America. Yes, it was the “Stars and Stripes” flying high over the American fortress that inspired the writing of this anthem, that in turn rallied a nation to loyalty and action, and continues to give hope and courage to the downtrodden and oppressed.

A Standard Against the Flood

A banner, a standard, a flag, is a soft fabric that flutters in the breeze. But it has a nation-rallying power for freedom and victory no other instrument of war or peace possesses. What is said of the banner, the standard, the flag in the physical is true also in the spiritual. Thus Isaiah in a perilous day of Judah’s history when the dark forces of evil reigned supreme, when “truth is fallen in the street,” prophesied, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa 59:19).

Today, we of the end times are living in the darkest period of church history. Though the church outwardly has become a great and mighty institution and can say with Laodicea, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” she is condemned as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev 3:17). The indictments of the prophet Isaiah upon Judah for the flood of her sins can be multiplied tenfold and applied to the times in which we live. The catalogue of Judah’s sins of lying and cheating, of hypocrisy and intrigue, of scheming and plotting, of a Jerusalem Watergate Isaiah has exposed like a spider’s web; yea “their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works” (Isa 59:6). The blacker list of injury and injustice, brutality and bullying, killings and murders are likened to snakes seething and hissing out of a viper’s nest. Thus did both John the Baptist and our Lord denounce the Church bosses of their day as “a generation of vipers” and “serpents” (Matt 23:33). Their “hypocrisy and iniquity” are called “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones” (Matt 23:27).

Moral Pollutions of our Times

Last year, the whole world was shocked and polluted by the putrefying smell of 900 men, women, and children rotting in a so-called Christian commune in the steaming jungles of Guyana. These had died in a massacre and suicide by coercion at the behest of undercover Marxist, Rev Jim Jones, a so-called ordained Christian minister. Equally shocking this year to us from the Orient, even to those outside Christ who inherit a high moral code like Confucianism, is the manufacture of sex films by the Rev Ted McIlvenna and the Rev Laird Sutton of the United Methodist Church and the showing of them to 4000 churches, colleges, and other groups. These films, cunningly contrived, and produced by the two “reverends,” show not only stark-naked acts of intercourse, but every “style” of perversion too shameful to mention, so that “if you don’t know how, here is how you do it” (Reformation Reader, April, 1979). Such immorality would make a loving couple of wild ducks visiting our seminary pond this spring turn away their heads in shame, and it further disgraces the good name of America. As if this were not enough, a state governor on the other side of New Jersey has just given his blessing to homosexuals by officially declaring a “Gay Pride Week,” while the apostate church follows suit in the ordaining of male perverts and lesbians to the Christian ministry, which is condemned forever: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet” (Rom 1:26–27).

How is it possible for an enlightened Christian West to permit such convulsive immorality? Ah, here is how the Deceiver does it! Do you know it is only during the last decade or so that an innocent-looking word has crept into usage in the English language and has now become so fashionably popular? It is actually the coining of two words to make a new one—viz.: the coupling of the words life and style. Under this terminology, sin is subtly covered. Sin putting on a new semantic dress becomes a “lifestyle.” If what has been condemned before, like homosexuality, is to be accepted, calling it a new “lifestyle,” like a Paris 1979 spring dress fashion, subtly makes it acceptable. Immodest dress for girls and long hair for men are no more a shame (1 Cor 11:14), but a lifestyle of the seventies. Men and women cohabiting for a few years and suing one another for “palimony” (a new legal term just invented by a California judge) when they are fed up is creating the latest American “lifestyle” under ERA (Equal Rights Amendment). Divorce can be obtained for as little as $120, while weddings rings are offered for hire to those not too sure of enduring bliss. These are current advertisements of changing “lifestyle,” Alas! Are these not saddening symptoms of sin and total depravity of human nature? Time will not permit me to go into abortion, the murder of babies, some of which when brutally sucked out, I’m told by a Christian nurse, actually cry “Ma!” Whatever “lifestyle,” it is the twisting and turning of the old serpent’s tail, dripping with filthy droppings and blood. I hate to use this counterfeit word. In Isaiah’s words, it is “a spider’s web.”

As the prophet has seen through it all, “Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands” (Isa 59:6). To whom are these words of the pulpit addressed? To the wicked Jews of his day? To the bad guys in the World Council of Churches? It is well to take heed that God’s Word applies first of all to us! To you and to me who have come to hear what God has to say to us in this Tenth World Congress, to us who are to raise a standard for the truth against this flood of outbursting evil on every hand in these last days. As the Lord’s army under Joshua cannot advance into Canaan except they be circumcised, and as the reproach of Egypt rolled away, so should we be first to heed the prophet’s admonition: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil …” (Isa 1:16). “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his car heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa 59:1–2). Is there anything hidden deep inside our personal lives that is eating away like a cancer? O the deadliness of sin unconfessed and hearts unwashed by the blood of the Lamb! Why not get right with God in your room tonight? … Or shall we let unconfessed sin keep on gnawing, gnawing, gnawing?

A More Deadly Sin

Now, there is a more deadly sin that destroys us; and that is, as Dr Chia Yu Ming my teacher in China has said, the sin of the mind and the sin of the spirit, the sin of rejecting truth, the sin of wilful ignorance! In the words of Isaiah, Judah has forsaken judgment, “in transgressing and lying against the LORD, and departing away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood” (Isa 59:13). “For truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. Yea, truth faileth” (Isa 59:14–15).

One fitting backdrop of these words of condemnation is the prophet’s confrontation with apostate King Ahaz. This is recorded in Isaiah 7 and 2 Kings 16. Because Judah had backslidden from worshipping the living and true God (1 Thess 1:9) and given herself to idols and heathen sacrifices, so God had permitted her to be attacked by the kings of Israel and Syria. Since Judah was the Lord’s chosen one, His covenant abideth.

He sent the prophet to assure the nation of His mercies in the midst of war preparations. When the Lord graciously condescended to show His protecting presence with a sign from heaven, or in the sea, the unregenerate king hypocritically answered, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD” (Isa 7:12). This hypocrisy is ripped aside by Isaiah’s scathing denunciation, accompanied with the famous prophecy on Christ’s virgin birth. Isaiah retorted, “Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa 7:13–14). What were Ahaz’s innermost reactions? I’m sure he who disbelieved the Word of God in the offer of His outward manifestations of salvation had also spurned the virgin birth.

Today, the enemy has come in with a flood of philosophies to destroy the Church. There is Roman Catholicism with many superstitions, then Deism and Rationalism, out of which has come Higher Criticism. As “they hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper” (Isa 59:5), so out of the 18th century destructive criticism of Holy Scripture has come the reptile Modernism, or Liberalism, which Dr Machen has called “a pagan religion.” From Modernism, or Liberalism, has come Barthianism, or Neo-Orthodoxy, and a proliferation like the hydra of every “style” of high-sounding anti-Christian theology, the latest of which is Neo-Evangelical “scholarship” so called. Though the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) has been raised of God during the last three decades to offset the ecumenism of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which today is degenerated to a self-glorified socio-political gathering of professional churchmen, our greatest fight is with Satan masquerading within it, whose work of mischief is to attack God’s Word. Of this hidden adversary our Lord says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).

The greatest lie Satan has spread in this generation is the teaching through neo-evangelical professors of the Fuller Seminary type. They proudly concede that the Bible has “limited inerrancy.” A corresponding subtle attack from even greater heights of conceit (the sin that brought Lucifer’s downfall) is to criticise the Bible’s so-called “grammatical errors.” Fancy a Greek professor picking on John’s or Peter’s “uncouth” rhetoric when he himself cannot stammer a kindergarten rhyme in modern Greek. Let him say in grammatical, modern Greek,

“Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep,
And doesn’t know where to find them …”

After all, if Greek scholarship is to be profound, the koine must be deepened by the classical and broadened by the modern. And how much Shakespearean English do these Greek professors know if the King James Version offers them a double superlative? Please let them point out the grammatical error of Acts 26:5, “that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” How true is the observation by Herbert Spencer, “When a man’s knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has, the greater will be his confusion.” And better still is Paul’s verdict, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him” (1 Cor 8:1–5).

The Battle For the Bible

The Battle for the Bible is the life-and-death struggle in our generation as never before! It has been observed by Dr Charles Woodbridge that there have been three periods of great controversy between truth and error in the course of Church history. The first period occurred in the time of Constantine in the controversy between Athanasius and Arius. It came to a head at the Council of Nicaea, AD 325, when Arianism was condemned. It was a fight over the person and deity of Christ. The second period occurred in the 16th century in Luther’s repudiation of popery. The fight centered on the work of Christ, “for the just shall live by faith.” The third period is now, since “scholars” began to pick on the Bible because they themselves are “blind” (19th century to this day). This attack is on the Word of Christ. What is the main battle this Council is waging? It is not so much with communism, or ecumenism, or “Billy Grahamism” as with the father of lies whose work of mischief from the Garden of Eden to this day is to destroy God’s Word.

The doctrine of the plenary, verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture is taught by none other than the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The classic declaration on this doctrine of doctrines is found in the famous Sermon on the Mount. “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: 1 am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt 5:17–18). Our Lord guarantees His Word perfect and pure to the last letter, “to the cross of a t and the dot of an i,” if you would. Here is God’s standard, like the “Stars and Stripes” over the fortress at Baltimore flying high, to resist Satan’s all-out onslaught. Here is the second standard of the ICCC Doctrinal Statement, resisting the foe of our faith. Truly our Declaration on the Bible’s inerrancy, infallibility, and supremacy has rallied all of you sons of the faith throughout the world to come here and stand with the Lord of Truth. “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (Ps 60:4).

For the strengthening of every seminary and Bible college within our movement, let me offer this declaration of Far Eastern Bible College, Singapore, for mutual encouragement:

Far Eastern Bible College deems the doctrine of the plenary, verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture, inerrant and infallible, to be the cornerstone of all other doctrines. Every member of the Board of Directors and Faculty must, under solemn oath at a special service held each year, subscribe to absolute belief in this doctrine to the exclusion of the latest neo-evangelical leaven of “limited inerrancy” and so-called textual and grammatical errors. These are Satan’s newest tactics for discrediting the everlasting and ever-living words “that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). As Satan constantly changes his tactics in order to beguile, if possible, even the elect, we declare that any question directed against the person and work of Christ, such as His deity, virgin birth, miracles, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, and personal, visible return is deemed an attack on the immaculate Lord Himself. Any question posed against the Bible is deemed an act of rebellion against the Triune God.

We affirm with Dean Burgon of Oxford that “The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the throne. Every book of it, every chapter of it, every verse of it, every word of it, every syllable of it, every letter of it, is direct utterance of the Most High. The Bible is none other than the Word of God, not some part of it more, some part of it less, but all alike the utterance of Him who sitteth upon the throne, faultless, unerring, supreme.”

The Standard Bearer

Now the standard, which is the Word of God, and its subsidiary the ICCC Doctrinal Statement, insofar as the 20th Century Reformation is concerned, requires a standard bearer. Isaiah says, “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor” (Isa 59:16). In Ezekiel, the Lord laments, “And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that 1 should not destroy it; but 1 found none” (Ezek 22:30). Praise God, in the year that King Uzziah died, when the Lord sought for such a man “Whom shall 1 send, and who will go for us,” then Isaiah replied, “Here am I; send me.” Praise God, when the enemy came in like a flood in our generation in the rise of the ecumenical movement and organization of the WCC, God raised up a man, our beloved president Dr Carl McIntire, to be His standard bearer. We thank God for giving him the wisdom and courage to counter by a 20th Century Reformation Movement, organised as the ICCC, in Amsterdam in August of 1948, at the same place and time the WCC was organised. We thank God that for His own Name’s sake, He has raised him up from a fatal disease as He did King David in Psalm 41. Thank God, today is a day of victory for one who has suffered all kinds of abuse and sustained every kind of attack for Jesus’ sake.

Who is the standard bearer? Not a great company of people; no, not numbers, not a mighty organization, not a powerful financial backing, but a man. A man like Isaiah who “trembles at his Word” (Isa 66:5), a man like David “after God’s own heart.” Our prayer for the ICCC is that God may give our president above all a double portion of His Spirit, as He gave Elisha, after Elijah. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” is the further testimony of a later prophet, Zechariah. And we pray, indeed, the Lord may give our president the extra years he has asked, according to his faith.

In the Succeeding Years

But it will be a great mistake on our part to leave the brunt of the battle to our president. It will be a graver error to join the ICCC merely for shelter and refuge, and always to receive and to get. It will be a greatest loss of blessing and hotter if we younger members, sons of the faith, have never grown up to take our place, to stand in the gap in our own battle line to fight the wars of the Lord. For after the Lord has put His appointment on a man, a leader, to do His work, He promises He will raise up successors. At the conclusion of this text, there opens a vista of continuing ministry in the succeeding years, should the Lord tarry; “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever” (Isa 59:21).

As Isaiah is succeeded years later by Jeremiah, and Jeremiah’s witness was extended to Babylon through Ezekiel, so has God raised up sons to this precious heritage from generation to generation. So, we see them, heroes and sons of the faith, in modern Church history since that great revival of religion in the sixteenth century. Luther has his Melancthon, Zwingli has his Oecolampadius, Calvin has his Beza. Knox has many, many spiritual sons, one of whom, William Chalmers Burns, brought Pentecostal revival to Scotland in 1839. Later Bums became the pioneer missionary to our ancestors in South China, yea, even to Southeast Asia.

The struggle for the faith in the United States of America in this generation may be traced to Dr J Gresham Machen. He stood against the flood of unbelief in the old Princeton in 1929. After his death on January 1, 1937, the mantle was seen to fall on McIntire. What commission have you received from the Lord since coming to Cape May?

The Standard Into All the World

Today we are hearing anew the call that came to young Isaiah, “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” Can it be that no young man will answer? Can it be that no one will yield his life to serve the Lord full-time from such a great world congress? Did you hear 20 French-speaking African nations calling for a French-speaking evangelist?

“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him” (Isa 59:19). Yes, with that standard, a man, a young man, yea even a woman! You are one. You are weak. The standard, the banner, the flag is a soft fabric that flutters in the breeze. These are weak instruments, but in the hands of Almighty God, our witness, like “The Star-Spangled Banner” that rallies a mighty nation, has been felt “unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

The standard of the ICCC exalting the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, has rallied you, the people of God, from the four quarters of the earth. “Red and yellow, black and white,” you have come, following that banner, to this great land of the United States of America. What a gathering out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9), a foretaste of the heavenly Kingdom to come, as we worship and fellowship together before our Saviour and King. But soon this conference is over, and the same standard will lead us back to our respective homelands. To Canada, to Central and South America, to Europe, to Africa, to Asia and the Far East, to the islands of the sea, yea, even to Australia “down under.” Let us covenant with the Lord to hold high this standard, that perishing men and women in this flood of pollution and apostasy of the last days may be drawn out to the foot of the cross, to find purification and forgiveness of sin and life everlasting in the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world, but Who is coming again as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and judge of the nations before whom “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” Amen and amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.”

The following anthem is by Rev J S Scarrow, delegate from New Zealand to the Third General Assembly of the Far Eastern Council of Christian Churches (FECCC), Singapore, 1956. It is to be sung to the tune of “Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts.” The circumstances under which it came to be written are similar to those that produced “The Star Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. Brother Scarrow, delegate from New Zealand, also looked with stirred emotions to the Standard we had raised in Singapore in 1956 for the Third General Assembly of the Far Eastern Council in our battle for the faith. While the plane in which he was travelling neared the Singapore coastline and the lights of the Lion City twinkled like a hundred thousand stars, he lifted up his heart to his Lord and Captain, Who, through the Singapore Standard, was calling him to battle:

All Scripture, Lord, as Thou hast said,
Through holy men, inspired to write,
Is given to Thy Church on earth
To furnish fallen men with light.
We meet to pledge with solemn vow,
Thy written Word shall ever stay.
Nor shall we wrest one smallest part,
Nor add thereto nor take away.
The Word made flesh was virgin born,
Eternal Son of God is He.
Two natures—God and man in one—
Redeemer through His Blood to be.
Born of Thy Spirit, Lord, we praise
One only God, and Three in One.
O Abba Father, hear our praise:
Thou lovest the world and gave Thy Son.
We therefore strive, contending all
Not in our strength; the battle’s Thine.
O speed the promised day of Christ,
That blessed day, that glorious time.

Rev Dr Timothy Tow was President of Far Eastern Council of Christian Churches. The above address was presented before the 10th World Congress of the International Council of Christian Churches Cape May, New Jersey, June 15–28, 1979; originally published in The Reformation Review, July 1980.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 9 Number 2 (July 2003)